The altar to the Earth god Gohees was buried deep in the ashen forest, surrounded by trees that had looked an inch from death for six thousand years. Fineesh’s path to it would normally have been fraught with danger, but she was there in her capacity as the Earth-friend.
Fineesh was not just the Earth-friend, but the peacekeeper for all the other gods as well. She was water-friend, fire-friend, air-friend, and Earth-friend. She could show no favoritism, only kindness. Gone was the age where the arguments of the gods sundered continents. Now they used one human from every generation as their friends. Fineesh, a girl of fourteen, was the newest friend.
The panthers and brush-dragons dared not touch her as she walked, barefoot, deeper into the forest. They sensed the powers of the gods within her, sigils marking her as untouchable. Every morning she awoke with fire in her heart, water in her mind, Earth in her muscles, and air in her spirit. Every step had to be calculated, every thought leavened by the other elements, lest she risk showing favoritism.
Today she would be speaking with Gohees, and so wore a humble brown robe that was somewhat contradicted by her necklace, which was loaded with rubies, emeralds, and other treasures of the Earth, many of them still bearing clods of dirt from when they were dug up.
She wouldn’t just be speaking with him, as Gohees was currently locked in a battle of wits with Halaos: god of the air. Rather than decimate each other’s followers as they used to, they now played a simple game of strategy. As they couldn’t stand each other’s company, Fineesh would be visiting Gohees to make Halaos’ next moves.
She took a deep but quiet breath as she reached the edge of the altar. Gohees didn’t like the sound of breathing, so she would hold it in as long as possible. Two great stones, polished smooth by nothing but stubbornness marked the boundaries of the altar. Between them was a patch of soil completely free of vegetation. It bore marks like ripples that dissuaded any of the nearby insects from crawling across it. This was where they would speak.
Fineesh dropped to her knees in front of the first ripple. The ground groaned in response. She was welcomed. His rumblings seemed pleased today; she guessed this was the only fun he had regularly. The leaves of the forest shook as the ripples in the dirt rearranged themselves like splashing water. Eventually they settled into a new shape: a game board with ten sides. The pieces, pebbles of gray and black, moved into their positions.
The first pebble moved across the board, marking Gohees’ move. He threatened one of the gray pebbles with removal. Fineesh squinted. She had a headache that day, and it only seemed to get worse when the ground rumbled under her. She held out her hand to move a piece, Halaos had given her possible responses to all of Gohees’ moves, but she didn’t grab the pebble. Her hand shook. She looked at her palm and, unable to restrain her breathing any longer, blew on the sheen of sweat across it.
Gohees did not speak, but she sensed his displeasure in her muscles. He was infinitely patient, he had built the world after all, or at least its skeleton, but he would not wait on Halaos. Fineesh pushed the pebble with one finger to its intended location. The wobbly path her shaking hand left in the dirt displeased Gohees further. This was his time. Fineesh had likely had unlimited energy for the others, why not him?
She thought she had the sensation under control, firmly contained in her aching head, but it broke loose. She realized she was pouring sweat now and her robe was sticking to her back. No… it was sticking to something else that hadn’t been there before. Her shoulders felt long and light. They twitched, a twitch with more agency than seemed possible. She glanced over her shoulder and saw something ripping out of her clothing.
At first she assumed death had come for her. God-friends never had the longest lifespans, as the energy inside them often proved overwhelming. Surely these things on her shoulder were projections of that energy, vents for her soul to escape from. No… it was far worse. The projections opened wide and flapped once, blowing the board away.
“I a-apologize mighty Gohees,” she stammered. “I am ill today. Feverish.” It was the best explanation she had for the pair of mighty azure wings she had just sprouted. There was a chance he would fall for it; Gohees was buried deep under the ground. His eyes were always closed to keep out the dirt. He only heard her footsteps and words. She tried to pass off her destruction of the board as a sneeze. She sniffed at nothing.
The ground rumbled again; she closed her eyes and waited for it to swallow her whole, but Gohees wanted his game. The ripples reappeared, and the game board was rebuilt. He took his turn.
Fineesh could barely focus on her move. Wings! Wings of all things. Once the gods who used their eyes saw her, she would be doomed. Wings were clear favoritism to Halaos. She was now part bird and all birds were his subjects. How could this happen from a simple headache? She must have slipped up, put some of Halaos’ power where it didn’t belong. She had failed in her duties of balance and was now marked. Fins would have meant water favoritism, smoking hair for fire, or leaden feet for Earth… If Gohees saw her wings he would likely think her the direct spawn of Halaos, snuck into her role as god-friend.
Worse still, the wings had a mind of their own. They flapped again, but Gohees had hardened the board to sandstone and accreted the pieces to the board. Blowing it away was not the wings’ goal; they wanted to take Fineesh to the sky. So they flapped continuously, pulling her knees off the ground. She groped around her and found a root. With it she held herself down and tried to make the next move.
She tapped the piece a little too hard. This was Gohees’ altar because he was buried there. In fact, the sandstone of the board was the crown of his head, and he did not appreciate being poked.
Kavoosh! The Earth opened up and belched dust. The game was over. Halaos was not playing fair. According to her rules, the rules drilled into her by gods and community, Fineesh should have taken her punishment. Yet, she released her hold on the root and launched herself into the sky. She felt joy emanating from her wings and making its way into her spirit. Higher and higher she flew, out of the reach of any boulder. She left the dust cloud behind and gave Gohees nothing but a trail of laughter. Never had she felt so free. Never had she dreamed of disobeying the gods she was sworn to serve.
The wings changed all that. She had freedom, she had feet upon the whole of everything rather than simple dirt. That was when she realized something. She was a flying girl with the powers of all the gods. How could she serve anyone? It simply wasn’t right. The new fledgling god contemplated her own moves as she burrowed into a cloud and laughed at Gohees’ grasping rage.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by simlover48 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!